Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat, his office chief, and a bodyguard were sitting in traffic in central Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon, February 22, when they noticed a commotion outside their car.

In nearby Tzahal Square, 27-year-old Avraham Goldschmidt had just been stabbed in the stomach by a terrorist. The terrorist tried to stab him again. Goldschmidt, fighting for his life, fended off his attacker with the only object to hand, his tefillin bag, and hit his assailant. While struggling, Goldschmidt shouted “Stabbing!” – he later explained “so everybody could get away.”

Nir Barkat leapt from his car and, along with his bodyguard, raced towards the armed terrorist who had by then left a bloody Goldschmidt and was now running through the street still holding his knife. Grainy CCTV footage shows the mayor, along with his guard, wrestling with the attacker. As terrified onlookers watched, the mayor and his bodyguard fought with the knifeman, staggering as they struggled across the pavement through a downtown crosswalk and into the street.

At last the terrorist was subdued and Mayor Barkat raced towards Goldschmidt lying in the road. Barkat placed his coat over Goldschmidt and waited with him until an ambulance and police arrived.

Barkat was hailed as a hero throughout Israel – and beyond. Israelis started jokingly referring to him as Batman, and putting pictures of the mayor dressed as comic book heroes on social media. Behind the joking, though, were real questions: what made the mayor forget his exalted position and ignore his own safety? What propelled him to leave the safety of his car and race out into the icy streets to confront a would-be killer?

Mayor Barkat’s courageous actions took place in the run-up to Purim, which celebrates another act of heroism performed by an earlier exalted official—Queen Esther, who put her life on the line to save her fellow Jews from murder and annihilation. Her actions give us a guide to what courage looks like today.

After a decree of genocide sentenced all Jews in the vast Persian Empire to death, the Jewish leader Mordechai asked Esther to intercede. The only problem was that Esther faced a real risk of being killed if she appeared before the king uninvited. For one agonizing moment Esther hesitated, fearing for her own safety until Mordechai helped her regain her courage. “If you keep silent in this crisis,” he declared, “relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained your royal position for just such a crisis” (Esther 4:14).

Laura Ben-David

In a flash, Esther knew her purpose in life. She was in the right place at the right time to help, and suddenly understood this was no mere coincidence; her whole life’s circumstances had been carefully leading up to this moment. Realizing this erased all doubt and gave her extraordinary courage to act.

It’s easy to over-think situations, to come up with complicated reasons why it’s too difficult to take action. Recognizing that the Almighty puts us unique situations that beckon us to rise to the challenge can inspire us to act decisively and to seize those moments.

This seems to be what Jerusalem’s hero mayor intuitively knows. Subduing an armed terrorist wasn’t the only time Nir Barkat has rushed to the aid of a fellow Jew. In 2004, when he was then a member of Jerusalem’s Municipal Council, Barkat was driving behind a bus that was blown up in a terrorist bombing. Then, too, Barkat rushed to the scene, in that case helping evacuate the surviving passengers, performing first aid, even saving a woman’s life.

“I saw the bus explode in front of me.” Barkat said at the time. “I parked on the side of the road and was among the first to enter the bus. We began evacuating the injured and performed first aid. At the same moment we didn’t think, but only focused on helping the people and rescuing them.”

In both times of crisis, Mayor Barkat “didn’t think” before acting. Perhaps, like Esther, he’s already done this thinking – he recognized that finding himself in a position to help others is a gift that’s too precious ever to waste.